I Am the Big Bad Wolf

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Cakes That Think They Are Pies

Lots of reasons to celebrate this week! Freddie came home from college yesterday and I made a traditional dinner for the last night of Chanukah. Freddie doesn't like chocolate desserts so I had to decide between a banana cake and an apple cake. When I forgot to pick up some bananas at Findlay Market last week, I knew it had to be the apple cake. The bananas have to be completely brown and mushy to make the banana cake and that takes at least a full week of advance planning. RHC has a gorgeous recipe for an Apple Upside Down cake and that's what I made.
This cake is gorgeous and is similar to the apple cake I made for Rosh Hashana (Martha Stewart) in that the apples are coated in a caramel sauce. The difference is that this cake is meticulously composed so that the apples make a gorgeous design on the top of the cake.
Here are the apple slices "arranged" in the bottom of the cake pan:

Batter is then "plopped" on the top of the apples (Rose's word, not mine). It is then baked right-side up. and unmolded right away.
Lift off the pan and it looks exactly like the photo in the book.
I would not recommend Rose's recipe for Bourban Whipped Cream unless you seriously like bourban. There is nothing subtle about this whipped cream and the next time I make this cake, I'll just go with plain whipped cream (made from real whipping cream, of course)!

Tonight, Scott and I are going to a holiday party at his brother's house and I wanted to bring a dessert that was not only delicious, but looked spectacular. I went with the Lemon Meringue Cake from RHC. I have had more than one disaster with lemon meringue pies -- the meringue shrinks when I put in in the oven to brown -- but this cake, though extremely time consuming and difficult, looked to be fool-proof with regard to the meringue. First of all, the meringue was an Italian meringue made with a sugar syrup that I boiled to the firm ball stage (248 degrees). Also, the recipe called for plenty of it, so I didn't have to skimp when I coated the cake. I only wish I could figure out how to brown the sides better (convect bake? blow torch?), but, other than that, I am quite pleased.

I'm still running. Just not today.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Chocolate Cupcakes

Before I get to the fun stuff, I ran three miles on the treadmill today. Slow is the word. I walked (slowishly) for five minutes to warm up. My average HR for the three miles was 135. I watched the season finale of Curb Your Enthusiasm while I ran.

Mile Pace HR

Lap 1 12:25 130
Lap 2 12:59 140
Lap 3 13:23 140

Last week these slow runs were kind of fun. This week, I'm finding that they are hard. That's part of the challenge, I guess. And really, this is an optimal time to be trying a different kind of training because I don't have any races looming on the horizon. I have nothing to lose.

Now, the fun stuff. Scott gave me Rose's Heavenly Cakes for Chanukah (my selection -- are you kidding???). I've been baking out of Rose Levy Berenbaum's The Cake Bible for almost twenty years and The Pie and Pastry Bible is my go-to cookbook for pie, so when I saw this new cookbook at Barnes and Noble recently, it was a no brainer. I had to have it. I can already tell that there are some editorial improvements over The Cake Bible. For example, in The Cake Bible a lot of the important notes about the recipes came at the end of the recipe. Sometimes there were more than one and it was easy to miss one. Like a textbook, it is replete with notes, astrisks, and arrows (my additions)reminding me not to miss a step. Rose's Heavenly Cakes seems to be better organized and I like how each recipe is accompanied by a photograph rather than having a section of photos in the center of the book and having to search out the one you are creating.

Today I christened the book by baking cupcakes for Sarah to give to her friends as holiday gifts. Since gourmet cupcakes have become popular, it is nice that RHC has a chapter devoted to baby cakes and cupcakes. I always feel like a mad scientist when I try to convert a cake recipe to a recipe for cupcakes and am never sure of the baking time. Even though I practically stand in front of the oven and watch the darned things bake, I've still taken cupcakes out of the oven that are better suited for use as hockey pucks. With a cupcake recipe, all the guesswork is done in the test kitchen. 350 degrees/ 20-25 minutes. Done.

I decided on a peppermint buttercream icing. The thing about real buttercream is that once you've tried it, you'll never go back to that stuff that's made with pounds of confectioners sugar. There is a drawback though. I would have loved to make a pure white icing, but I have no idea how to do it when the recipe calls for egg yolks and butter. If the cupcakes weren't going anywhere, I might have made a white chocolate ganache. Sarah intends to put each cupcake in a little gift box, so I was aiming for a little bit of stability.

Making buttercream is like magic. You start with egg yolks and end up with icing. It took years before I was brave enough to try it because I couldn't imagine how it would possibly work. But it does. I'll show you:

Here are my egg yolks

Rose calls this "neoclassic" buttercream because of this little cheat. Here I am using a mixture of corn syrup and sugar instead of a sugar syrup. I'm heating it up until it's a rolling boil.

While still hot, the corn syrup mixture is added to the egg mixture and, using the hand mixture so the syrup doesn't fly all over the bowl, I beat the mixture for about five minutes.

Here it is before I add the butter (well, it is called butter cream, after all)!

After the addition of all the butter:

I knew Sarah didn't want yellow icing on her cupcakes, so I crushed up some peppermint candy and mixed it in. I also added some peppermint schnapps since I didn't have any peppermint flavoring. Anyway, I know I'd rather have the schnapps, wouldn't you?

I don't know if you can tell, but the peppermint candy, even though I crushed it finely, really thickened up the icing. It's like chunky peanut butter (well, not that thick). For the second time this week, my pastry tip got clogged with bits of stuff -- in this case peppermint. I was using the jumbo star tip too! (If you're a careful reader, you'll remember that my pastry filling tip got clogged with bits of fruit when I made jelly doughnuts). Ok, so I had to think of something else. Here it is!

Monday, December 14, 2009

Sufganiyot Success!!

It is now the third day of Chanukah. Chanukah is the Jewish holiday that occurs each year on the 25th day of the Jewish month of Kislev. Always the same day according to the Jewish calender, even though, as followers of the Gregorian calender we are prone to saying things like "Chanukah is early this year" or "Chanukah is late this year." The holiday commemorates the rededication of the Temple that was desecrated by the Syrians during the time of the Maccabies. There was only a small amount of olive oil left to relight the menorah in the temple, but, miraculously, the oil lasted for eight days which was exactly the amount of time it took to prepare more oil for the lamp. Thus we celebrate eight days of Chanukah.

One of the ways Jews love to celebrate is by eating foods that remind us of the meaning of the holiday. Lucky for us, that means eating foods that are fried in oil. Most people know that this is the time of year when we eat latkes (potato pancakes) and nothing against a good latke, I make them myself, but there is nothing quite like eating a light and crispy jelly donut. We call them sufganiyot.
The last time I tried making my own sufganiyot it was a disaster. I'm pretty sure that I used Joan Nathan's recipe -- at least it was a recipe that I got from a Jewish cookbook. So I was hesitant to try again.

Fortunately, I found a recipe from the one maven who has yet to let me down in the kitchen: Martha Stewart. Yes, the Jewish maven herself! I followed the recipe exactly this morning, and with the exception of having to refrigerate the dough after the first rise so I could go to my appointment for learning my Torah portion for Shemot (oh, the irony!) if anything went wrong, I would have to blame Martha.

I almost gave up the project before I started because every strip of yeast I found was expired. I threw away yeast that expired as far back as 2002! Really, what this means is that I usually buy new yeast each time I bake and then just accumulate the extras, but I knew I had fresh yeast in the house from challah baking.

Here, I'll prove it. Or, rather, I'll proof it:

See the foam on top? That means the yeast is good to go.

Here I made a well in the flour before adding the yeast mixture as well as the eggs, sugar, butter and nutmeg:

(You can see how sticky the dough is in this photo).

Here is the dough after I kneeded it and before the first rise.

And here it is after rising for an hour and a half. Also, this is when I had to leave, so I put the dough in the refrigerator. I know from baking challah that dough will never overrise when it is refrigerated, so I was counting on that while I left for an hour.

The recipe didn't say to do this, but I punched the dough down and let it rest before I rolled it out. It was none the worse for wear from spending an hour in the refrigerator waiting for me to return.

Here is the dough, rolled out to about 1/4 inch thick:

Cut in 2 1/2 inch rounds:

And frying in oil. I bet you forgot that donuts are

fried didn't you?

After frying, I rolled the sufganiyot in sugar while they were still warm. They look good, don't they?

Sufganiyot are traditionally filled with jelly and even with my pastry tip, this turned out to be the most challenging part. I was out of pastry filling, so I used the jam and preserves that I had on hand from the farmer's market. Too bad all those chunks of peaches and cherries kept getting stuck in the narrow end of the tip! Still, they came out perfectly and I must say, they are delicious. Way to go Martha! You came through for me on Rosh Hashana and now on Chanukah. You are going to be my new "go to" girl for Jewish holdiay recipes if you don't watch out!

Here is the link to Martha's recipe: Hanukkah Sufganiyot (Jelly Donuts)

Sunday, December 13, 2009

How Slow Can You Go?

Back to blogging! Have I missed it? Somewhat, I have. When I left, I had PR'd in every distance. Now, after a year, I haven't PR'd in ANY distance (despite what Brad Hudson promises in his book "Run Faster") and I've had some pretty crappy race results. I battled anemia for most of the year and tried to push through it without losing too many training miles. I'll probably finish out the year only 50 miles short of my goal mileage of 1500 miles, so that's a good thing. Right? Of course!

Now I'm going to try something new for 2010. I'm going to try to adhere to the training philosophy of Dr. Phil Maffetone. Dr. Maffetone stresses slow runs to run faster, making sure not to exceed your maximum aerobic heart rate for each workout. My maximum aerobic heart rate is 135 according to the Maf formula. I ran my first "MAF test" today.

After a 5 minute warmup:
Miles Pace HR
Lap 1: 12:05 130
Lap 2: 12:42 138
Lap 3: 12:21 143
Lap 4: 12:21 144
Lap 5: 12:36 144

I probably needed to slow down even more for the last three miles, although it's hard to imagine running any slower. But you can't deny the rise in my heart rate, so the evidence speaks for itself. The next time I do the test I promise I'll stick better to the plan! Here's the link for Dr. Maffetone's website: Click! You'll find the 180 formula for determining your aerobic heart rate on that page.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

2009 Goofy Challenge

I arrived at Walt Disney World on January 8th to take part in the Goofy Challenge which is really two races. On Saturday participants run the WDW Half-Marathon followed by the WDW Marathon on Sunday. This event is so popular that the limited available spaces (4000?) go on sale a year ahead of time and sell out in about two weeks. Feeling up to the challenge, I laid down my $250 plus fees – a year ago.


Before jumping in to the weekend events, some background is in order. If you are only interested in Goofy, then skip down, but if you’re interested in how I trained for the challenge, then stay here. I have been dealing with a couple of injuries since July, 2008. I had been experiencing pain in my left big toe for many months and in late June I went to see a doctor. After an MRI, I was told that I had a stress fracture which was confirmed by a bone scan. Unfortunately, I had most likely had the stress fracture for a long time and it has proved difficult to heal. Nevertheless, I took eight weeks off of running, while continuing to strength train and pool run in order to allow the SF to heal. I started back running the first week of September doing only 2s, 3s, and a long run of 5 miles. I still had pain, but had been given the go-ahead by my doctor. The second week of September, I experienced another setback when I tripped over my dog and broke the big toe on my right foot. This one healed a lot more quickly than the SF and I was finally able to slowly start running again in October. My longest run in October was 6 miles on October 30. I started training for Goofy, in earnest on November 1st. Since I only had ten weeks to train, I used a combination of Hal Higdon’s Boston Bound 13 week training plan for two weeks but without the long runs and then jumped into the Eight Week Masters training program. With no base to speak of, I struggled through the long runs and never completed a run longer than 16 miles which was on December 14, a month before the race. When I got to Orlando, I was seriously undertrained and I harbored strong doubts about my ability to complete the Goofy Challenge.

The Goofy Challenge

What makes Goofy even more challenging is the fact that it is in Disney World. I just could not do this event without bringing my kids. It wouldn’t seem right. Upon arriving in Orlando and depositing the kids at the Port Orleans French Quarter pool, Scott, Sarah, and I boarded the “Marathon Transportation” bus to head to the Expo which was held at Disney’s Wide World of Sports. I first checked in and picked up my packet at the Goofy Challenge booth and then we headed to the vendor floor to get my shirts and do a little shopping. I would have liked to spend more time, because there were a lot of vendors, but my daughter, who otherwise loves to shop, does not like shopping at a race expo. $15 for a couple of Bondi Bands and we were back on the bus to the hotel.

Friday afternoon was the V-Team get-together, but first we had to go to Disney’s Hollywood Studios. I did my best to stay off my feet, but you can only go on Aerosmith’s Rockin’ Roller Coaster so many times, even with a Fast Pass. We schlepped around the park for about four hours and then I called it a day. Time to head back to meet some V-Teamers!

Friday evening, the family went to the Magic Kingdom, and I went to bed. I was in bed by 7:30 but who can sleep that early? I slept fitfully until my alarm went off at 3:15 AM. The last bus to the start left at 4:00 AM and, taking Cindy Southgate’s advice, that’s the one I intended to be on.

As an aside, I make it a rule not to wear a race shirt unless and until I have run the race. Disney is a little different though. As for myself, I completely forgot to bring any throw-away clothes. All I had to wear on race morning that had long sleeves was my Half-Marathon race shirt, so I went ahead and wore it. But, people were wearing these shirts all weekend. They were even wearing the Goofy Challenge shirts before running either race. I’m going to stop taking myself so seriously. It’s just a shirt after all. Thank goodness I had them! Who couldn’t use three long sleeve tech shirts on a chilly weekend?

Anyway, it was freezing Saturday morning! I got to the staging area with plenty of time to spare. There was a live ‘80s style band playing and lots of port-o-potties with long lines at all of them. I dropped off my bag and began the long, long walk to the start. Walking in the cold, dark, early morning hours, all I could think was “I can’t believe I have to do this again tomorrow.” Believe me, I was not feeling enthusiastic.

The race starts with a typical Disney flourish. Mickey and Minnie Mouse, Pluto, Donald Duck and Goofy were all there at the start. There were lots of fireworks and music. The sky was perfectly clear and the full moon was enormous. The weather, in fact, was perfect. As we were passing the Contemporary Hotel, I was passed by a guy wearing nothing but a Speedo and a Trojan helmet. Later on, I was passed by another guy wearing a Speedo. I wished I had brought my camera to the Half! When we ran through the Magic Kingdom, it was still dark and all the rides were lit up. Characters were out to cheer us on and it truly is a magical feeling to run down Main Street USA and through Tomorrow Land and Cinderella’s Castle. Dawn was just breaking as I was leaving the Magic Kingdom.

The course is predominantly flat, but there is one highway onramp that is a killer. It’s a banked cloverleaf and it’s about a half mile long. It could be a serious knee-killer for some people, I’m sure. Once you get to the top, you can see the big EPCOT ball and you’re about two miles from the finish. I just kept plugging away, determined not to stop for any reason until I finished.

Having no plan other than to finish, I merely tried to maintain even splits. My PR for a Half is 2:03. I guess I secretly hoped for something in between 2:03-2:10, but my training wouldn’t allow it and I wasn’t going to push it, knowing I had to run a marathon tomorrow. My foot didn’t give me too much trouble since I took a Celebrex when I woke up that morning.

After crossing the line, I remembered that Rhondda had told me to look for the massage tent. For $1/minute you could buy a massage. I paid $15 and got a lot of professional stretching. Then, it was back to the hotel to join the family at EPCOT. Oh, was I supposed to be resting up for tomorrow’s marathon??? That’s for those other runners -- the ones who didn’t bring their families with them. I enjoy EPCOT. I love Soarin’ and the tour of the Disney greenhouses. We had lunch at the Coral Reef restaurant and after four hours (my theme park limit), Scott and I left the kids and went back to our hotel to rest. I stayed up till 9:00 and slept much better on Saturday night.


Sunday morning, I awoke again at 3:15 to catch the 4:00 bus to the start. This time, the staging area seemed much more crowded. I read that there were less than 15,000 marathon finishers, but it seemed like there were many more than that. I can only guess that this feeling was accentuated by the often narrow roads and the number of walkers walking 3 and 4 abreast. But, there were 2 waves of starters and corrals at least up to the letter G that I was aware of. It certainly seemed like a sea of people.

Before heading out of the staging area to start the long walk to the starting corrals, we had another V-Team meeting outside the baggage drop tent. Not everybody made it, but we did get Carisa this time. Heading out of the compound, I ran into Gene and Amanda Vey standing in line at a potty.

Once again, Disney hoopla at the start – characters, fireworks, music. My feet felt ok, but my quads were really sore. I was definitely worried about what the morning would bring. We started to run and I thought about dropping out within the first two miles because my quads were so sore. But then, I just kept on going and before long we were entering EPCOT from the back of the park, where the different countries are located. It was so pretty and the characters were out, and all the lights were on, even though it was only 5:30 in the morning and still dark outside. I stopped for my first picture and then it became easy to just look for photo opportunities. I kept telling myself that if I could just make it to mile 20 then I could walk to the finish. So, I kept going. We exited EPCOT at the front and I just sort of went with the flow after that. I couldn’t remember exactly which theme park was next, but every once in a while, my memory would be jogged by something I had seen the day before.

Between miles 6 and 7 I had a Gu and a pit stop. I saw a medical tent up ahead and I had the feeling that a pretty good blister was brewing on my left foot so I decided to stop. I sat down and had the blister lanced, drained, and covered up with some blister stuff. Then I applied sunscreen and Biofreeze. The two miles together took almost 30 minutes! When I later looked at the splits, I had to laugh. I had no idea I was taking so long. Anyway, at about mile 9 we headed into the Magic Kingdom parking lot and you could see runners on the road coming towards us in the other direction. I could hear a DJ saying that they had reached the ½ way point. This was about 1:45 into the race.

Again, entering the Magic Kingdom was thrilling. In fact, it was the first of about four different times that I became emotional because I was starting to think that I might actually finish this thing. I saw Cinderella’s Fairy Godmother before I entered the Castle and no one seemed to want to have their picture taken with her. There was a long line for some other characters right across from her but she was totally free! I stopped, had a photo taken and asked her if she could grant my wish to finish the marathon. J She agreed. By the way, Cinderella’s Fairy Godmother is a very rare and special site at Disneyworld, so if you ever do see her, stop and have your picture taken with her!

Well, now that I knew I would finish the marathon, I set out for the Animal Kingdom. This was a nice part of the course. On this part of the course, you get to see a lot of Disney property and some of the backstage workings of Disney. We ran by an employee center that had posters hanging on the outside encouraging employees to be courteous to guests, etc. Then we ran past Disney’s composting center, an agricultural center, and a greenhouse. From the looks of it, Disney grows every plant that decorates the theme parks, from the palm trees to the hanging baskets, in addition to raising a lot of the fish that are served in their restaurants and the salads and vegetables too. It was a quiet stretch, but I enjoyed it. I also liked this and I was glad that I had my camera this time.

I had told my family to look for me in The Animal Kingdom and that I would be there between 8:30-9:30. At almost 9:30 on the dot, I spotted them and stopped for hugs and photos. They were wearing the team uniform, so they were easy to spot right away.

Leaving the Animal Kingdom, we entered a long, long stretch of hot highway. The Disney folks did their best to make it bearable for us by stationing Disney characters along the highway, which was pretty cool. Running up a highway ramp, I saw giant speakers mounted on a crane. As I got closer, I heard some great oldie, but goodie, Disney songs like Alice in Wonderland and You Can Fly. I’d heard people complain about this stretch of road during the weekend, but I didn’t mind it at all. I used the time to assess my body. I paid special attention to my fluid intake, not wanting to drink too much because I knew I would be taking a long time to finish, but also not wanting to become dehydrated. I had decided early on that I would only drink at every other aid station and primarily try to stick to PowerAde and drink the water when I had a gel. I also liked that the cups were only filled about a quarter of the way – about two to three swallows – of fluid which resulted in less spillage and stickiness on the ground and, I think, also reduced the risk of hyponatremia. It was definitely a much hotter day on Sunday than it was on Saturday. By 11 AM I felt like it was hot and sunny enough to be 4 PM and I confess that I had no concept at all of the time. It’s the first marathon where I didn’t wear a hat and I’m glad I had my long sleeve race shirt tied around my waist. It made for a nice kefia to protect me from the sun. I did pull it off when I was a mile from the finish in anticipation of race photographers. ;)

Hollywood Studios followed Animal Kingdom. Again, the marathon took us backstage to the Disney costume shop which was another interesting site. As we reached mile 23, leaving the park, I was again overcome with emotion. I realized I was going to finish and that I had not hit the wall. I assessed my performance and I was satisfied. I had run the entire course, only stopping for photos – which I had planned on doing. I decided to run without stopping to the finish which was past the Disney Yacht Club, back into the worlds at EPCOT, all the way around the lake, past the big ball, out of the park and into the parking lot. I stopped one time to take a picture of the Mile 25 sign and then ran to the finish, looking for an open area, so as not to be blocked for my finish line shot. There it was with a clear shot to high five both Chip and Dale and I was done. 5:30. A personal worst as far as time, but a personal best in terms of satisfaction.

Random Thoughts

Many people ask about strength training on the Boards. I could never have completed the Goofy Challenge on ten weeks of training without having a good, strong muscle base from strength training. It is the one thing that I was able to continue to do with regularity while I was rehabbing my injuries. I may have finished slow, but I finished strong. I ran the entire race without walk breaks. I ran up every hill while others walked. I ran a smart race and I never hit the wall. I finished confident that I am ready to really train for my next race which is The Flying Pig marathon in Cincinnati on May 3.
The coveted Goofy medal